View Full Version : Tips for Art Festivals

5-Aug-2017, 13:17
I've done a few small festivals/displays, but next month for the first time I'm doing a larger, juried art festival. I know many here have done these and thought I would ask if there are any tips or gotta-have items that you all might suggest for a newbie in this space.

I already have a 10x10 canopy tent. I just ordered a print display rack for up to 24" prints and am waiting for the proper side walls for my tent to get back in stock. I also have a 6ft. folding table. I am currently planning on hanging framed work on the tent trusses and matted prints will be in the large rack, with smaller prints on the table or in a small rack along with a laptop POS system.

Also I'd love to hear any success or failure stories from some of you - what has worked, and what didn't. For instance, I used to get invited to a lot of festivals that were organized by and geared towards college-age folks and the music/art crowd. After doing a few I realized that they simply didn't have the money to buy anything! So I stopped. This one I am doing now is in a well-to-do area with retirees, so I am hoping maybe there's a bit more money flowing.


Jim Jones
5-Aug-2017, 15:29
This year will be my 34th (and last) annual juried outdoor arts & crafts fair in my county seat with a population of 9000. Maybe twice in all that time I missed a sale by not being able to accept credit cards. A canopy tent has been tempting, but home-made pegboard panels have sufficed all this time. They hold up to 32 16x20 photographs in 16x20 frames. A tub displays unframed photos in 16x20 mats. A loose leaf notebook holds unmounted 8.5x11 photos for those with less money or display space. Rolled-up plastic sheet is instantly available if it rains. Attendance is perhaps 5000 over two days. It has rarely been profitable, but money isn't the only goal of some of us. A strong sense of community makes a difference. Showing year after year builds repeat customers.

It helps to be able to swap matted prints into or out of frames as a customer prefers. Few choices in print size may eliminate some sales, but is a great convenience in producing and transporting prints. It's good to have a knowledgeable friend to help in busy times or when each of you wants to see the entire festival. I've set up and closed down the exhibit by myself, but it goes better with a helper. A Ford Ranger with a 7' bed and a topper is crammed full. A canopy tent would save space. Keep water and snacks at hand. I also have business cards and brochures printed on a cheap B&W laser printer. A posted entertainment schedule lures some people into stopping for at least a moment.

5-Aug-2017, 16:14
Thanks, that's some great info! I like the idea of a small notebook/portfolio for unmounted prints. I have a number of 8x10 prints that are unmounted that I can do that with and see how it goes. Pegboard panels may be a nice addition to the tent.

The canopy tent has been really nice for me (and also required for this fair). One of the festivals I did a couple of years ago had a sudden severe storm hit that decimated the show. If not for the canopy tent, good tie-downs, and some friends to help push water off the top for about an hour I'd have lost everything to rain and wind.

In terms of profit...I just want to buy some more paper ;).

Jim Becia
5-Aug-2017, 17:31

Over the past fifteen plus years, I have usually done on average about 18 juried shows a summer. This year I've cut back to 11 as they are getting harder and harder as I have gotten older. I do shows here in the Midwest and weather is always a concern. Seven years ago, 100 mph straight line winds wiped out my booth and nearly 60 others at a show in Omaha, NE. So, when you talk about a canopy, I hope you are talking about one of the better ones like Lite Dome or Trim Line, and avoid the cheap pop ups. Also weights should be attached to all four canopy legs. I've never used a table in my booth. I would only hang images off of panelled walls. The walls also add integrity to the strength of your set up. Doing shows requires an investment in time and inventory. Presentation should be consistent, at least to me. Using 10 different frame styles is not a good idea. I have gone frameless with my work. I've included a photo of my setup. While this shows an indoor setup, my outdoor setup is the same only I would have a double canopy over everything. If you are going to do this regularly, I'd advise being able to take credit cards. Good luck. Any questions, shoot them my way. Jim

5-Aug-2017, 19:12
Thanks Jim for your wonderful insight! And especially thanks for the photo.

Honestly the canopy I have is a cheaper one. We don't have those kinds of winds though, and the venue is a wooded area so I think it'll be okay for now. I am buying some concrete blocks for weights.

All of my mats and frames are identical - slightly off-white mat, black metal frames. I'll need to look closer at my options for hanging.

6-Aug-2017, 04:09
Speaking of cheap 10x10 foot canopy tents, my local Kroger grocery store here in Atlanta, Georgia has a bunch with white tops that are on end of season clearance for US $18.

Jim Jones
6-Aug-2017, 05:20
A note on my pegboard panels: most are 4x4' with the bottom almost 3" above the ground. They are connected by slip-pin hinges, so the edges can be joined in various configurations. The pegboard sides are separated by 1x2 strips which also extend to become the legs. Braces between the tops of the panels make them quite stable. They are usually used on grass in a park. One anchor threaded into the ground has always prevented wind damage. Long ago I would transport them on a luggage rack on top of a Volkswagen Beetle. They seem much heavier now to an old man.

6-Aug-2017, 10:17
Honestly the canopy I have is a cheaper one. We don't have those kinds of winds though, and the venue is a wooded area so I think it'll be okay for now. I am buying some concrete blocks for weights.

Consider using empty plastic milk jugs. They are free and much lighter. Fill with water when you get there. A gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds, so two jugs would weigh 16.5. A standard concrete block weighs 28 pounds.

Kent in SD

Jim Becia
6-Aug-2017, 12:03
Thanks Jim for your wonderful insight! And especially thanks for the photo.

Honestly the canopy I have is a cheaper one. We don't have those kinds of winds though, and the venue is a wooded area so I think it'll be okay for now. I am buying some concrete blocks for weights.

All of my mats and frames are identical - slightly off-white mat, black metal frames. I'll need to look closer at my options for hanging.


If you are only going to do one or two shows a year, you might get by with a less expensive canopy. While you mentioned wind is not an issue, what about rain? I can't tell you how many canopies I've seen collapse due to rain. Here in the Midwest, I put almost 50 pounds on each leg. A couple of filled up milk jugs will not offer any substance in holding down your canopy, and a $19 tent is not acceptable. You must understand, I take art fairs seriously and one of my great fears is that someone else's canopy will cause me a problem, and that has happened in the past. With nearly 250 fairs under my belt, I am speaking from experience. I know there's a wish to get by without spending much, but be careful.

6-Aug-2017, 12:21
Yes I can understand that. The canopy I have is not a bargain-basement one or anything. It's been in extremely heavy rain before and held up fine, with monitoring. The top did collect rain in the downpour but was easy to push out. I mean, I won't be doing any pull-ups on the side trusses but it has weathered a bad storm. There's a lot of space between a $19 canopy and a $1000 one. I paid about $100 for the one I have and from looking at the really cheap ones online I think it's much better built. $1000 for one of the brands you mentioned is an impossibility at this point but I will definitely consider it for the future.

Drew Bedo
6-Aug-2017, 17:27
I have very limited experience with this sort of event.

My two cents worth: While professional presentation and an efficient payment system are paramount, simplicity of set-up and tear-down are a priority that is just second if not on par with the first two.

I just did a 10x10 booth at The Abilities Expo trade show in Holuston this weekend. The show sponser provided a 10ft wide back drop that would support framed prints. I put up 8-10 in 16x20 and 11x14 frames. A 6' table on one side held a crate of matted prints and a portfolio of unmatted prints. The booths were side-by-side and I chose to only utilize the back and one side for print display to keep it open and inviting.

When it came time to tear it all down, The matted prints went back into a full sized suitcase with the portfolio. The framed prints went into a slightly larger suitcase . both bought at Goodwill. In about ten minutes, we were walking out to the convention hall loading dock.

Paert of this streamlined approach was driven by union rules forbidding the use of cargo dollies and a limit of one trip per person . . . . and so on (don't get me started!).

7-Aug-2017, 02:47
In addition to water weights, sand bags, etc. there is another way to secure a canopy tent to the ground: purchase metal screw-in anchors that are normally used for dogs.
I get mine at the dollar store.

Once the screws are in the ground then run ropes or cables to the upper part of the tent. Tighten well.
Add flags to help folks not trip over the tie-down.
Any good camping supply store will be able to help you.

7-Aug-2017, 10:52
I've done a few hundred Art Festivals over the last 25 years. They can be fun and lucrative. They can also turn out to be a waste of time, money and energy. Still, I always start out planning for the former.
One thing I'd suggest is to have a bio sheet, with information about your technique (especially if you're doing alt process work- including silver gelatin, these days), and contact info. Include the sheet in the bagged, matted work.
Be consistent in the work you're showing. Mixing color, black and white, platinum, etc. can be (believe it or not) confusing to people who want to purchase what they see as your specialty. If you do want to mix, display an equal amount of each, and display like processes together.
People are more prone to buy from someone they like, assuming they like the work, so share your passion for what you do. Customers like making a connection with the artist which they can share with their friends.
Try matting in standard sizes. Being able to tell someone they can pick up a 16x20 frame for under $20.00 at Michael's makes selling matted work easier. My sales are about 80% matted, 20% framed. As was mentioned earlier, all of my frames are the same, too. It makes for better booth consistency, but often, a different frame will be a better choice for your customer. Let them know they can find a more appropriate frame cheaply. Everyone assumes framing is expensive, not realizing that you've covered one of the large costs- matting- for them.
Set up your booth to allow easy access/egress. People are hesitant to enter a booth where they can be cornered by the artist. Jim's booth (though a double) is a good example of an inviting booth. There's no spot in it where a person might feel "trapped".
If you're hanging different sized framed prints, have larger ones up front, where they catch peoples eyes from a distance. If you hang them in the rear, they are only visible for the 10 feet people walk past the booth. If they are at the front, they'll notice it as they're walking down the row of booths.
If someone expresses an interest in a framed item, take it off the wall and put it in their hands, so they can see it in "better light" outside of your booth. There was once a study done by one of the art festival magazines showing that doing so increased the chance of a sale by 20-25%. Apparently, people equate weight with value. I know it sounds absurd, but my experience shows it to be true.

Also, if you plan on doing more shows, look at how people (especially 2D artists) design their booths. Take notes so you can improve your booth next time out.
Finally, have fun... don't let a slow start to sales frustrate you... pay attention to which images are drawing attention... pay attention to how your interaction with people is keeping their interest. Listen to the sales "spiel" of your neighbors who have been doing shows for years. They have honed the craft of selling for a long time.
Good luck. I hope it's successful for you. Please let us know how it turns out.

7-Aug-2017, 11:00
Thanks! Some excellent suggestions. I am going full-on with the silver gelatin b&w handmade print angle - that's all I have.

Terry - that's a great idea generally but unfortunately this festival bans all anchors/stakes in the ground.

7-Aug-2017, 11:24
I am going full-on with the silver gelatin b&w handmade print angle - that's all I have.

That's all you need. Just make sure the public is aware of it. (I have the same bio/technique sheet I add to the bagged work dry mounted and hanging in a few locations on my walls). I've noticed a renewed interest in traditional photography over the last few years. People seem more open to buying a hand-crafted print than they were before.

A few things I forgot in my last post:
Cover your table with a floor length cloth. Underneath is a good storage area, but you want to cover up the clutter.
For credit cards, I use Square. I think you need to buy the reader now, but I've been pleased with them. Payment only takes a few days, and the swiped/ chip transaction costs are reasonable. Manually entered transactions are more, but still under 4%.

7-Aug-2017, 11:33
Great idea on the tablecloth. I also love the idea of a printed bio inside the bag. I've seen that before, but had forgotten about it. Will do.

7-Aug-2017, 11:47
The bio sheet is important. It helps your customer brag about their purchase to friends, once it's hanging on their wall. ( It also has contact information they can give to their friends who like what they see. I've had sales made because someone saw my work on a friend's/ relatives wall).

The best piece of advice I can share is the importance of your interaction with a potential buyer. You must come across with passion for what you do, but also be likable and engaging. It doesn't matter how much they like your work. If they don't like you, they're not buying. I tell newbies they're spending 50% because they like the work and 50% because they like you. It's really not much of an exaggeration.

26-Sep-2017, 16:10
Thanks again everyone for the helpful suggestions. This is a great thread for others here wanting to do an Art Festival and are looking for tips.

I ended up investing in a nicer tent, a mid-range model that was definitely a big step up in headroom and stability. I ordered a really nice hanging system for the tent but it got back-ordered - I ended up making a pretty nice hanging system though out of fishing line and tackle. Worked for lighter, unframed prints. Anyway, the new tent, a rolling storage bin, and strapping my table/chairs to the tent enabled me to be able to roll in with everything in one go round between me and my wife, so that worked great.

The bad news is the "art festival" ended up being more of a "craft show" type thing. Talking to the other vendors, it seemed no one much sold work except some mass-produced yard pieces (technically not allowed per the rules...). But it was a good learning experience, I did sell enough to make back the fees involved, and it sounds like I actually sold more photographic prints than most of the other vendors. Passed out cards, talked to hundreds of folks, so maybe I'll turn a few more prints in the coming days/weeks.

I will continue to experiment with festivals now that I have a reliable setup and further refine my approach. I really want to thank everyone, especially Jim Becia, for their helpful input.

Peter Collins
26-Sep-2017, 18:34
Another bit of information: The Ann Arbor Art Fair fills 4- or 5-gallon buckets with concrete and insert into the wet concrete reinforcing rod made into an up-side-down "U". The whole thing cures and is about 75 - 100+ lb of anchor. Four anchors per canopy, all placed on the street or sidewalks (where the canopies are set up). There's no soil at this venue into which heavy stakes might be placed. I have seen gusts able to lift the canopies and would take them elsewhere except that the weight of the anchors prevailed.

Why? Well, in the middle of July when the Fair is held, the Midwest weather can do and will do anything. They've been having the Fair for more than 50 years, and have seen some truly unimaginable take-downs due to storms and their gusts. No tornadoes. No hurricanes. Just Weather.